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Laboratory experiments with cultivation of west coast algae from the species collection GUMACC
Photo: Cornelia Spetea Wiklund
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Microalgae from Sweden’s west coast – a new resource for the fishing industry

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Researchers at the University of Gothenburg and RISE have developed an energy-efficient system of cultivating marine microalgae for the Nordic climate. Now seafood companies along Sweden’s west coast are interested in working with the researchers.

The research project was a collaboration between the University of Gothenburg and RISE and studied around 160 species of microalgae from different places along the Swedish west coast.

In the project, the researchers worked to refine an energy-efficient microalgae cultivation method for the Nordic climate. The principles behind the cultivation process were previously developed by RISE for freshwater algae, but the researchers in this project have now used marine species from seawater.

Two algae species suitable for biomass production

The researchers searched for microalgae that could extend the Nordic growing season, thus allowing an increase in the production of energy-rich algae biomass.

“We found a couple of suitable microalgae that live along the west coast, the diatom Skeletonema marinoi and the green algae Nannochloropsis granulata,” says Cornelia Spetea Wiklund, project leader and professor of Plant Cell Physiology at the University of Gothenburg.

In their experiments, the calendar year was divided into three growing seasons: winter, spring and summer. Simulations with both algae species were conducted at different temperatures and light intensities in laboratory bioreactors using seawater.

Skeletonema marinoi thrives and blooms more during the winter. Nannochloropsis granulata blooms more during the summer. Both grow equally well during the spring. Both are very effective in taking up nitrogen and phosphorus from seawater and converting nutrients into valuable biomass,” says Cornelia Spetea Wiklund.

In what context can these new findings be used?

“Since fish farms need feed sources and the fish and shellfish industries need to clean their process water, our blue solutions with microalgae are suitable for ex. in marine aquaculture. Our microalgae could live on what is left in the process water while cleaning the water so that it can be recycled back into the production process.”

This makes it a closed and sustainable system. The only thing needed beyond this is energy from the sun and carbon dioxide from the air. The researchers have shown that biomass production using rotation cultivation with species adapted for different seasonal climates can be done even during colder periods.

“Though the winter-adapted species are not as productive as those adapted to summer conditions, accounting for good access to sunlight, they can still be used to extend the growing season.”

Working with companies along Sweden’s west coast

According to a market survey commissioned by the project, algae biomass could be used in different ways as a bio-based raw material, such as for fertilizer or within the cosmetics, pharmaceutical and bioplastic industries. The greatest interest is currently for cleaning seawater using microalgae for fish farms and the seafood industry.

“We have already applied for funding to start projects with several companies along the west coast,” says Cornelia Spetea Wiklund.

Project title: Energy-efficient cultivation of marine microalgae for biomass production
Link to Spetea, C. (2020) Energy-efficient cultivation of marine microalgae for biomass production. Final report: Swedish Energy Agency P45907-1.

 

About the research

The article is a result of a research collaboration between RISE AB and the University of Gothenburg. A laboratory project entitled “Energy-efficient cultivation of marine microalgae for biomass production” was conducted from August 2018 to October 2020. The project was funded by the Swedish Energy Agency with project number 45907-1. The Carl Trygger Foundation for scientific research co-funded the project from February 2017 to February 2019. The project leader was Professor Cornelia Spetea Wiklund from the University of Gothenburg. Other participants were Otilia Cheregi, Mats Andersson and Anna Godhe (deceased) from the University of Gothenburg, and Johan Engelbrektsson, Niklas Strömberg, Mathias Berglund and Susanne Ekendahl from RISE.